Ta’izz, the former capital, is the third largest city in Yemen. Picturesquely situated at the northern foot of Mount Ṣubr, the walled city grew to prominence in the eleventh century. The city reached its golden age as the capital of the Rasulid dynasty, which ran from 1229 to 1454. The Rasulid built lavish palaces, mosques, and madrassas in Ta’izz, including the Mosque and Hammam al-Mudhaffar, a World Monuments Fund 2012 Watch site.
Ta’izz was a battleground in the civil war that has consumed Yemen since 2015, and whose origins lie in the mass protests that broke out in major cities in February 2011. The conflict pits Houthi rebel forces and fighters loyal to the country’s former president against Yemeni government forces, backed by a coalition of foreign states led by Saudi Arabia. Rebels initially seized the citadel, which was subsequently targeted and damaged by airstrikes in May 2015. In 2016, the National Museum was shelled, and its collection of manuscripts was destroyed. World Monuments placed the historic city on the Watch in 2018 as an expression of concern for the protection of the historic built fabric of Ta’izz, and for the welfare of its citizens. The Watch also supported the efforts of local university students and other volunteers to identify buildings facing critical needs and carry out emergency repairs, and to continue the process of preparing a conservation plan for the old city that was interrupted by the war.
Stonemasonry Training Begins
In November 2018 World Monuments Fund was awarded a British Council grant of £100,000 to support conservation skills training, post-conflict planning, and conservation in Ta’izz. The project involved working with Yemen’s General Organization of Antiquities and Museums (GOAM), researchers, students from the University of Ta’izz, to carry out emergency repairs at the Qubbat al-Husayniyah, an important Ottoman era mausoleum and the National Museum, with decorative plasterwork and wooden lattice mashrabiya balconies.
Due to the challenges with air travel to and from Yemen, the trainees travelled by road to the French Centre for Archaeology and Social Sciences in Kuwait for two weeks of training workshops. They focused on structural assessments and a restoration programme for the museum and mausoleum. Work began in spring 2019 and was concluded in December 2019 with the building envelope beautifully repaired and restored by project partners GOAM, using the Cultural Protection Fund support. An event held at the Imperial War Museum on Monday 2nd December 2019 marked the completion of the current project for a London audience, which included the Yemeni Ambassador.
In February 2020, a Watch Day was held at the National Museum to celebrate the conservation of the facades of the National Museum at the Imam Palace. The Watch Day was attended by WMF, staff of the National Museum as well as community members, and included arts presentation, including a short video detailing the restoration process and a ceremony presenting certificates of completion to the trainees of the Museum.
Stonemasonry Programme Extended
Towards the end of 2019, the British Council announced potential funding for current Cultural Protection Fund partners as part of a 2019/20 impact round. WMF submitted a successful proposal for a further phase of work at the National Museum, to include restoration of all the interiors. An initial assessment took place of the palace interiors under the guidance of our Pierre Blanchard, WMF’s conservation architect. The trainees engaged in further training workshops, this time in Cairo, Egypt, instead of Kuwait as planned. Work has commenced on the Imam Palace interior restoration, and the project is due to finish in February 2021.